Kaizer Chiefs recently appointed Gavin Hunt as their head coach, following their uninspiring yet winning football under coach Ernst Middendorp. Hunt is the second local head coach to be entrusted with leading the Glamour Boys in the PSL era, after Steve Komphela who was in charge of the Naturena-based club for three years.
Before you get carried away and think I’m missing something here, all of Wellington Manyathi, Jacob Sephoa, Doctor Khumalo and Ace Khuse were handed the reins temporarily.
This is a big move by Amakhosi and calls for celebration as it will go a long way in not only improving the quality of our football but also developing and encouraging local coaches to dream big and know that, through hard work, they can also be afforded such opportunities. The Big Three clubs in South African football, for far too long, have been a fiefdom of foreign coaches because ‘no local deserves it’ and that mentality is slowly changing. Some of the foreign coaches didn’t even have the same pedigree, or even come close to it, as Hunt who has three back-to-back league titles and a couple of trophies under his belt.
Instead of celebrating this milestone, especially in our Heritage Month, Hunt’s appointment was met with mixed feelings because some people decided to box the 56-year-old coach and label him a ‘kick-and-run’ type of a coach, instead of looking at the ground he has covered from his days at Black Leopards to Bidvest Wits before joining Amakhosi. Coach Hunt has earned his stripes and Chiefs chairman Kaizer Motaung and his board made the right choice. They looked beyond the so-called boring football allegedly played by the former Hellenic defender. One needs to cast their eyes back to when Hunt had a gangly striker in Mame Niang at both Moroka Swallows and SuperSport United and you will realise that was the only time that his team was more direct, with speedy wingers who would ping crosses for their tall striker to either benefit from or lay off for a teammate to score. That was playing according to Niang’s strength and there’s definitely nothing wrong there. When he had a short striker who was comfortable on the ball in Gabadinho Mhango, with skillful and creative ball players like Thabang Monare, Elias Pelembe, Daine Klate, Deon Hotto, Haashim Domingo and others, there was never any emphasis on high balls, as it would have been playing against the striker’s strengths. These are just two examples to show how adaptable coach Hunt can be, in working with what he has and making the most of it.
On the basis of the two examples, you can’t box the coach and claim he’s one-dimensional and for those with a short memory, just think back to the 2016 MTN8 final where Hunt masterminded a ‘football lesson’ to a star-studded Mamelodi Sundowns team with a 3-0 win. That’s a game many still talk about today and even the Sundowns supporters were in awe of the beautiful display of football that evening, so much that they even applauded Wits. So, Hunt is no chance-taker and deserves respect and should never be second-guessed. He could be Amakhosi’s solution to their long-standing trophy drought and wouldn’t it be surreal for Hunt to make sure that Chiefs’ hunt for silverware is over?
Will there be challenges for Hunt at Chiefs? Of course, there will be. Chiefs is not Wits and therefore everything will be different. To compound Hunt’s challenges will be the team’s FIFA transfer ban, which prohibits them from making any player signings until 2021/22, pending the outcome of their appeal to Court of Arbitration for Sport, following the case that involves the acquisition of Andriamirado ‘Dax’ Andrianarimanana and his former club Fosa Juniors. The pending case has already hamstrung the coach as he has no say in the transfer market, with rivals busy strengthening their teams while Amakhosi are anxiously awaiting the outcomes of their appeal. As it is, he will have no choice but to work with what the club has, a demoralized team that lost a chance to make history by losing the league title on the last day of the campaign. As if that’s not enough, Hunt will also have to face the reality that coaching Chiefs is not the same as Wits and SuperSport, for instance. Generally, teams operate differently and it comes as no surprise when a team signs a player or players without the coach’s knowledge or involvement. You see a coach with four similar players in one position when he is clearly lacking cover in another position and he still has the responsibility to make it work because the buck stops with him. That’s unheard of at some teams, but it is almost a daily occurrence at other clubs because that’s how some of them operate. You’ll be surprised to know that even a successful coach like Pitso Mosimane, despite all that he has achieved at the club, is not guaranteed complete control because Sundowns are a big club. Now, if he can face such challenges behind the scenes, what do you think happens to those who have nothing to show?
This reminds me of a former coach, at one club, who was at pains narrating what would have been a funny story to the neutrals, so much that they’d ask for more if he was featured in our popular ‘Still In Touch With…’ feature, but a very sad one for the coach involved. The story goes thus: the team signed this international and experienced player because they were going to have a serious go at a competition he had played in. So his acquisition, according to the club, was solely for that reason, and it meant the coach had to make space for this signing in his team for that particular competition. The player had limited game-time in other competitions because, as mentioned, the club said he was signed for that one particular competition, and that didn’t sit well with the player concerned. He made his frustrations known and the coach was now at a crossroads. One day, during an international break, the team is going to play a friendly game and the coach has already planned to give his international star a big run. The coach arrives at training, the team assembles in the change room minus one player. Who? The experienced international! Here’s the man screaming and shouting in the change room, cursing the day the international was born, because he thinks his international was running late, when he badly wanted to give him a run, only for some of his players to tell him, “No, coach, he’s not coming. He’s on his way to his new club. He’s been loaned out and he texted us about it.” Now can you imagine the look on the coach’s face!
Coach Gavin has surely never experienced anything like that as he’s almost always been heavily involved in the running of his previous teams, so it will be interesting to see how the operational system of his new club, among other things, affect him and if he will have a similar experience at the Village. That said, we wish the legendary coach everything of the best and we know that the Naturena training grounds will never be the same with crazy old Gavie in charge!